Jordan inches closer towards Russia amid fight v ISIS
AMMAN - Talks between Jordanian King Abdullah II and Russian President Vladimir Putin allowed Jordan a say in Russia’s war on the Islamic State (ISIS) while giving Russia leverage to press other Arab states to join its regional campaign against militants.
To both sides, however, that is not stepping on lines drawn by the United States, which wields considerable sway over Middle East governments and has long dictated policies it deemed suitable for its interests in the region, mainly upholding Israel’s security.
A Jordanian official described the November 24th closed-door meeting between Putin and King Abdullah at the Russian Black Sea coastal city of Sochi as “very positive”.
The talks, however, were overshadowed by the downing of a Russian Su-24 military aircraft in Syria by an air-to-air missile from a Turkish plane. Putin said the Turkish action was a “stab in the back”.
Welcoming the Jordanian monarch, Putin invited other Arabs to join his campaign against ISIS and other militants.
“We are counting on the active participation of all the countries in the region in this struggle,” Putin said in a statement emailed to The Arab Weekly in Jordan.
“Obviously, we expect the international community to make an effort to join forces in the fight against this common evil.”
King Abdullah, a staunch US ally who also maintains close personal ties with Putin, raised “concerns” that a stepped-up Russian offensive in southern Syria straddling Jordan’s northern border “could trigger an influx of more refugees into the kingdom”, a Jordanian official said about the talks.
“Jordan is already overstretched as it hosts more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees”, nearly half of them registered with a UN refugee agency, while the remainder slipped into local communities and live off state services, the official added.
Jordan recently signed a security agreement with Moscow that allowed the kingdom to take part in Russian air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.
The deal guaranteed that Russian bombing in southern Syria does not target a Western-backed rebel group, known as the Southern Front, which Jordan supports. It considers it a buffer that would obstruct militants from reaching the Jordanian frontier.
The Russian Air Force stepped up bombings in recent days of targets in rebel-controlled towns in southern Syria, including Deraa, a city bordering Jordan that is run by the moderate rebel group backed by the kingdom.
The Jordanian government remained tight-lipped on the Russian bombing campaign, which started in Syria in September. But the king expressed his enthusiasm publicly on the Russian moves, saying they offered a renewed bid to defeat the militants.
Abdullah’s overt support of Putin’s moves may concern Washington, the largest bankroller to cash-strapped Jordan. The United States has spent more than $10 billion in the last five years to bolster Jordan’s fragile economy and boost its defences.
The congeniality may also put Abdullah at odds with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Both oppose the Russian intervention in Syria and advocate the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Saudi Arabia, like many other Sunni Arab governments, is critical of Assad’s ruling Alawite minority, an offshoot of the rival Shia Islam. The Saudis see Assad as a surrogate of Iran, which is spreading its influence in a region long dominated by Sunni governments.
Russia, a strong backer of Assad, insists on a gradual transition of power in Syria, leaving the Syrian president in power until elections determine who would rule.
Moscow is heading a loose Shia alliance that includes Iran, Iraq and Syria under a security pact that allows the four countries to share intelligence data on ISIS and other militants.
A Jordanian Royal Palace statement quoted Abdullah as telling Putin that his strong leadership could bring a solution to the Syrian crisis.
“I have said for many years that the only way for finding a political solution in Syria is with the strong role that both you and Russia play for a political solution for the Syrian people,” Abdullah said.
The king, whose country is squeezed between hotspots Iraq, Syria, Israel and the Palestinian territories, said he was determined to remain in any coalition fighting the militants. He called on the international community to unite against terrorism.
“I know that this is a fight that both you and I, our countries and many others in the world are determined to win,” Abdullah said to Putin. “Again, this is an opportunity for all of us in the international community to come together and take up this fight as part of a coordinated international body.”